Ohio voters overwhelmingly approve amendment enshrining abortion in state constitution

ohio issue 1 Voters check in at a polling location on Nov. 7, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio. | Credit: Andrew Spear/Getty Images

Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot referendum that adds a new right to “reproductive freedom,” including abortion and contraception, to the state constitution on Tuesday, Nov. 7. 

With 59% of the vote tallied, nearly 56% of voters selected “yes” for the adoption of Issue 1, in contrast to only 44% who chose “no.”

The amendment, which will be effective 30 days after its adoption, adds a new section to the Ohio Bill of Rights in the constitution, which guarantees that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decision,” including, but not limited to “abortion.” 

Although the amendment’s language allows the state to impose some restrictions “after fetal viability,” the amendment does not establish a clear cutoff for when viability occurs. A preborn child normally reaches viability, which is the ability to survive outside the womb, at about 24 weeks of pregnancy. However, the amendment allows viability to be determined by the mother’s treating physician, which is often the abortionist, on a “case-by-case basis.”

The state can adopt laws that prohibit abortion after “viability,” except for cases when the mother’s “life or health” is at risk, according to the amendment. The word “health” is not defined in the amendment, so whether this would apply to only physical health, or whether it would include mental health or financial or social well-being is unclear. Similar to viability, “health” is determined by the mother’s treating physician, which is often the abortionist. 

Per the amendment, the state cannot “directly or indirectly, burden, penalize, prohibit, interfere with, or discriminate against” anyone who exercises these rights to “reproductive freedom.” It also prohibits impeding on any “person or entity” who assists in an individual exercising these rights. The only exception to this is when the state uses the “least restrictive means to advance the individual’s health.”

Current Ohio law allows abortion up to 22 weeks, which will change when the amendment goes into effect. The state briefly had a six-week abortion ban on the books after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which was blocked by a federal judge in October 2022 and is now before the Ohio Supreme Court. 

The Ohio Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops, strongly opposed the amendment. The “no” campaign also received financial backing from both the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, and the Catholic Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. 

In August, Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr urged “Catholics and all people of goodwill to oppose this very harmful amendment.”

“This amendment could harm women by eliminating safety regulations on abortion clinics in Ohio, harm families by removing the rights of parents to consent to abortion or other reproductive decisions of their minor children, and enable the abortion of preborn children in the womb up to nine months,” Schnurr said.

In addition to adding a constitutional right to abortion, the amendment will guarantee a right to contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care, and continuing one’s own pregnancy. The rights, however, are “not limited to” the reproductive decisions expressly mentioned in the language, according to the amendment.

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